[Cultural Currents]

Kelly Kirkham

As you enter the world of Kelly Kirkham’s art – lively as it is with fantastic, wide-eyed animals and vivid, neon colours – don’t be fooled. Though curiosity and playfulness thrive in her work, Kelly Kirkham’s art is, like any wild beast, not quite tame.

At university, Kirkham was torn between biology and art: she briefly imagined a life spent creating anatomical drawings. That dual interest still comes through in her art as she renders her creatures with impossible realism; her fine pencil drawings reveal not only the absurd physical form, but the emotions or sensations carried within that fanciful body.

Last winter’s show at the Art Gallery of Northumberland featured her largest work yet, a multi-piece installation called “Site Seer” that filled the main gallery with oversized sculptures and a parade of puppets, exploring what it means to be a spectator. It’s a theme Kirkham likes to engage with: the ideas of seeing and being seen that are so central to art. When the subject of animals is introduced, the layers become more nuanced. Are these animals seen through the lens of a National Geographic camera or the glass at the zoo?

In the hillside Port Hope home she shares with her family, including a couple of very real pets, her latest work lies on the dining room table, under a light-filled window. Vibrant watercolour wash is a backdrop for a curious beast – perhaps part cheetah, part deer? Nothing is quite glued down yet: Kirkham is still playing with the pieces, watching to see what wild things might emerge on their own.


Story by:
Meghan Sheffield

[Spring 2023 departments]